Simplified ordinance keeps original vision

By Don Nelson

A proposed thorough update of the Town of Winthrop’s Westernization Code is completed and ready for public review before adoption by the town council.

The draft proposal will be discussed next Thursday (April 14) following the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce meeting in the Winthrop Barn, which begins at 8:30 a.m.

The document was released last week by the Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB) — local residents Ron McCollum, Vicki Caldwell, Lauri Martin and Kristen Smith — and is available for viewing at Local resident Steve Oulman, a retired city planner, organized and drafted the text.

The project has been more than a year in the making, with the goal of helping to assure that Winthrop’s Westernization program “continues to further the community’s goals for beautification and economic development,” according to a news release by the review committee.

The updated code achieves three goals, according to the WDRB:

  • The history, objectives and requirements of the code are clearer.
  • The code is more streamlined and understandable.
  • It reinforces the historic intent of the program to promote economic vitality.

The WDRB will hold a variety of meetings and public forums on the proposal. A public open house will be held the first week of May. Adoption of the updated code would come after a public hearing and vote by the town council.

The proposed update runs to 53 pages, including the application and enforcement process; specifications on materials to be used in downtown buildings; lighting requirements; a schedule of proposed application fees and fines for violations of the Westernization ordinance; a palette of appropriate colors for buildings and signs; and a variety of acceptable fonts for signage.

Winthrop’s Westernization theme is based on replicating the design and construction typical of western frontier communities between 1850 and 1900. The code spells out in detail what that means for businesses in the downtown Westernization district, where conformance and authenticity are considered key to the town’s success in drawing visitors.

Westernization was adopted and embraced at about the same time the North Cascades Highway opened in 1972, to increase tourism interest in the town. That has worked, but the Westernization code and its enforcement have been a nearly constant matter of discussion — and debate — over the years.

Some residents who were part of the original planning and execution of the Westernization transformation — a dramatic facelift for what was a rather drab, 1950-ish town — have complained that not only the spirit but also the application of Westernization principles have eroded over the years. Some business owners have ignored or modified Westernization requirements, to the consternation of other businesspeople who adhered to the code, often at considerable cost.

John Lester, who was part of the Westernization efforts of the early 1970s and whose family has been doing business in Winthrop for decades, lamented to the town council recently that inconsistency and negligence are potentially undermining the town’s livelihood.

Other residents and members of the Westernization Architectural Committee, which has overseen application of the code, have been critical of the town’s periodic reluctance to enforce Westernization requirements even in the face of clear violations.